Tonight in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) state quarterfinals, The Warner Robins Demons will host the Clarke Central Gladiators. This matchup takes me back to the 1985 State Championship game which was played between these two teams in Athens, Georgia. In fact, I start shivering immediately when I think about it. It was the coldest high school football game I have ever attended. I had to pull up the weather history to find the exact temperature which was 29 degrees at kickoff. That was cold.
The 1985 season was my first full season of attending Warner Robins football games. The team finished the regular season undefeated at 10-0 which was capped with a thrilling 21-14 overtime win over crosstown rivals Northside. Warner Robins defeated Southwest Macon 40-14 and then Northside again 27-0 in the region playoffs. Warner Robins edged Lowndes 8-7 in penetration in the first round and then beat Bradwell Institute 28-14 in the semifinals.
I decided to make the two-hour trip to Athens for the game. At the time I was a single 21-year-old man in the Air Force and I was able to convince a date to go with me to the game. More on that later. When I arrived at the game I had general admission tickets and the only seats I could find were the front row of bleacher seats in one of the end zones. I had a blanket and attempted to keep warm but the cold weather made the blanket as stiff as a sheet of plywood. The bleachers were also full of some Clarke Central fans – one of which would purposely yell in my frozen ear every time his team made a big play. I might have moved had I not been frozen to the bleacher. I think every part of my body was cold that night. I certainly wasn’t a whimp to the cold weather since I had just been transferred to Robins Air Force Base from Thule, Greenland and it was a painfully freezing reminder of Greenland.
Although the game was statistically close, Clarke Central recovered three Warner Robins fumbles, turning the first two into a pair of field goals (31 and 41 yards) by John Kasay, who also put four of five kickoffs deep into the end zone to help keep the Warner Robins offense backed up. Additionally both Gladiator touchdowns were big plays, the first a 53-yard pass from Robbie Kamerschen to Tommy Stewart on the Gladiators’ first possession of the second quarter and the second a 54-yard run by tailback Richard Jewel on Clarke’s first possession of the third period.
In comparison, the Gladiators committed only one turnover, a fumble at their own 42 late in the second quarter. After recovering, the Demons moved to a first down on the 4-yard line, but the Clarke Central defense held on three straight running plays inside the 2 and took over on downs, preserving a 13-7 halftime lead.
Kamerschen and Jewel accounted for the majority of Clarke’s 291 yards total offense, as the senior quarterback completed four of eight passes for 122 yards while the senior tailback rushed 14 times for 108 yards.
Warner Robins, which totaled 245 yards offense and led 14-13 in first downs, got 101 rushing yards on 16 carries from junior Jeff Thompson. But 98 of those came in the first half. Warner Robins totaled just 53 yards and two first downs after intermission.
The game was a disappointment. I had to drive the long trip back home. The only consolation was that my car had heat and I would be able to thaw out on the drive. I also had my date with me.
On the drive back I got that “You’re a nice guy but I just want to be friends” line. Ouch. My football team and my dating suffered a bitter defeat that night. That night was cold on so many levels.
But, as they say, it all worked out for the best. As for Warner Robins, it took three seasons before they captured the state title and demolished Brookwood in 1988.
No high school game was colder than that night in Athens.
I have loved football from a very young age. The first football player I ever remember watching was Joe Namath. The first time I ever attended a football game was in 1974 when my dad took me to see his alma mater Clinch County Panthers play the Jeff Davis Yellow Jackets.
I never had the chance to play youth league football but after much asking, my dad finally let me be on the Ware County Gators 7th Grade team. I wanted to play football. I tried really hard to do it. I never realized until I tried to play on how limiting those darn pads were. Shoulder pads simply swallowed me up and the helmet made me resemble more of a bobble head figure than an actual football player. I still tried to play and I stood on the sideline in a real game as our team beat Atkinson County 8-0 in a spring game.
That was the last time I thought I would ever be on a team as we moved to Villa Rica, Georgia a few weeks into the next school year. My dad was a preacher and he was appointed to a church there to fill a sudden vacancy. The football season had already started so I didn’t bother with it. Villa Rica was your typical small town Georgia and they had a passion for their football team although they weren’t very successful when I had arrived. It seemed that the whole town showed up on Friday Nights. It was also the first time I had ever been exposed to something called pep rallies. I thought they were pretty awesome.
I finally talked my dad into allowing me to play again. I joined the Villa Rica Wildcats’ B-Team in my sophomore year. Now don’t be impressed that I was on the team because everybody made the team. Here I was barely 100 pounds trying to play football. I wasn’t the smallest player but I was definitely in the bottom three on the size list.
So I tried to play – more accurately said, I practiced. I hated running laps at the end of practice. That alone nearly killed me. My body took a beating too. I came home everyday with bruises on my arms and many places on my body. I tried to hide them from my mother because she didn’t want me playing anyway and she would have worried even more.
What position did I play? Running back. Yes I realize how funny that sounds now. Can you imagine a 100 pound running back? I still tried. In one practice, a play called for the quarterback to fake the ball to me then pitch it to another back. After the fake I was leveled and I could swear I landed on a rock on the practice field because that’s how hard it felt to be leveled by someone twice my size. It took me a while to get up.
The coaches always preached to us about volunteering for positions. One day at practice the coach asked for a volunteer to return punts. I am not sure why, in that moment that my hand wasn’t connected to my brain; however, I raised my skinny hand and the coach put me in. The punter booted the football high in the air and I positioned myself under hoping not to drop it. The moment the football touched my hands I was steamrolled. My helmet was spun around where I was now looking out of the ear hole and fluids came out nose and mouth rather involuntarily.
My dad wasn’t always able to attend practice but when he did it seemed I played my worst in practice. Each time he was watching I ended up fumbling the ball a lot and getting yelled at by the coaches.
I still tried.
When our B-Team schedule started I watched from the sidelines. I knew I wasn’t going to stand a chance to play unless our team had a huge lead or way behind in the game. During the middle of the season I got my chance.
“Hooper” the coach yelled out.
I couldn’t believe it. He was actually putting me in. We were playing Central of Carrollton and we were well ahead. The coach put me in on defense. I joined in on one tackle before I was back on the sideline again.
My next chance came a couple of weeks later when we played at Bremen. I suppose I was some sort of novelty or they felt sorry for me but the coaches had planned to put me in late in the game when our offense was close to scoring but we scored before I had the chance. When we got the ball back again on offense, they put me in and called a running play. It was a counter play where I faked one way and the went the other way into the line. I got the ball and followed the lineman before a mound of players converged on me. After the bodies had been cleared I had gained three yards. The coaches took me out.
I think for me just being on the team was the best experience. Sure, I wanted to play but I believe the reality of my size was too much to overcome. On Fridays we were allowed to wear our football jerseys to school. I loved that although the jersey swallowed me up and could have been a dress. I didn’t care. I still tried. The next spring I did it again.
Our varsity team got a new coach, Mac Mcwhorter. He gave the football team a renewed shot of enthusiasm and got the players motivated. I joined the team again for spring practice. I changed positions from running back to receiver and defensive back. I did pretty well catching the ball but those darn pads still limited me. It’s a hard life being short and lightweight. That weakness was made even more evident when we were scrimmaging in practice. On another occasional I was on defense and the quarterback sprinted around the end. I cut the angle and grabbed his jersey. I didn’t bring him down. Instead he airlifted me. I felt like I was holding onto Superman’s cape. When I finally let go, I was flung like a rag doll into the fence on the sidelines behind the bench.
I still tried.
We had a drill that was called “Oklahoma” where two players, usually a lineman and a back, would go head-to-head against two other players. The coach asked for volunteers.
Yep, you guessed it. My scrawny arm went up once again and I was put in this drill. I was on defense and on the other side was our starting varsity running back, Keith Glanton. Even back then, I think one of Keith’s legs was bigger than me. My job in this drill was to tackle him. When the whistle blew Keith picked his direction to run. I guessed right and attempted to grab something – anything – as I was bulldozed and felt Keith’s cleat imprint into my chest.
I was mad. I pounded the ground.
The coach apparently thought I wanted to do it again so he lined me up with another back but it was sadly the same result.
Our spring practice culminated in a game against the Carrollton Trojans. The Trojans were our county rivals. On the night of the game, there was a terrible storm so the game was moved to the following night. At some point in the game, the coaches put me in the defensive back position. I had no involvement in any plays and then on the last play I would ever play, the opposing quarterback attempted a pass which went over the receiver. I sprinted as best as I could on the muddy field to the ball but it landed in the muck at my feet. I tossed the ball to the referee and returned to the sideline.
That would be the end of my football playing experience. We moved to Savannah, Georgia during the summer before my junior year.
I learned that playing football was hard. I also learned that you can only do what your body will let you do. Football players were big then but they are giants now. I was very fortunate to avoid any serious injuries.
You won’t see my name in any record book or any stats reflecting the three yards I gained in a B-Team game in 1979. In fact, you won’t even see my picture with the football team in the high school yearbook. I think I was absent that day the photo was taken.
It the end, my body couldn’t do what my mind thought it could do but – I tried.
As you know from reading my blog, I am a high school football fan. As I thought about the subject of this week’s Friday Flashback subject, I wondered about the first high school football game.
My research turned up that the first recorded high school football game was played in 1825 by Oneida Football Club in Boston, Massachusetts. There is an inscription near Frog Pond on Boston Common which reads: “On this field, the Oneida Football Club of Boston, the first organized football club in the United States, played against all comers from 1862 to 1865. The Oneida goal was never crossed.”
There isn’t any record of the first game but 13 of the 16 Oneida players attended Epes Sargent Dixwell’s Private Latin School. At that time, football was mostly a recess game and resembled more like rugby than today’s modern American football.
A “touchdown” in this early, prehistoric version of football was scored by crossing a line at the end of the field. There were no goalposts. To start the game, the ball was dropped into the middle of the field, and play was continuous until one side crossed goal line. The ball itself was not the oblong ball used today but was more like a square with the corners rounded off.
The most celebrated game Oneida ever played was on Nov. 7, 1863, against a combined team from Boston English and Boston Latin. Oneida won the game and the ball which was used can be found at the Historic New England museum, on Cambridge Street.
In the State of Georgia, Cedartown is the earliest recorded team to play in 1887. Back during those days, games were played in the community. Thomasville and Valdosta played as far back as 1895 as well. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians, the first organized championship games were played in 1948. Lanier (Macon) beat Marist 15-14 for the AA title, Fitzgerald defeated Decatur 20-19 for the A title, West Point topped Cordele 20-6 for the Class B title and Fort Valley defeated Gordon Lee 25-14 for the Class C championship.
The first high school football game I attended was on November 21, 1975. It was the Region 2B Championship Game between Clinch County and Charlton County which was played in Waycross, Georgia. Charlton County won the game 6-0. I was attending middle school in Folkston, Georgia in the Charlton County school system. My dad’s alma mater was Clinch County where he had played football. Needless to say, it was a house divided. I remember thinking how cool it was to attend the game at historic Waycross Memorial Stadium. As I recall, Clinch County dominated the game statistically but Charlton County scored early then held on to win the game.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s playoff season!
Georgia teams finished up their regular season schedules as teams either packed up their gear or got into position for a state playoff berth.
In one of the most interesting matchups with playoff implications was with Houston County. The previous #1 team and all-world quarterback Jake Fromm needed to beat Valdosta to get into the playoffs. They were unable to hold on to a 24-7 lead in the third quarter as the Wildcats came back for a 28-24 win. Fromm was held to only 174 yards passing in the game.
Dalton finished the season at 10-0 with a thrilling 24-22 win over defending 6A champions Allatoona. Allatoona scored in the final minute but Dalton stopped a two-point conversion to hold on for the win. One of the amazing stats from the game was that Dalton had minus 11 yards rushing in the game.
Crisp County defeated Worth County 28-20 for the Region 4 championship in 3A. Crisp County QB Patrick Felton tossed a 62-yard touchdown pass on the first play. The Cougars never trailed in the game.
This week there were some very high scoring games:
Parkview 67, Central Gwinnett 43
Alexander 49, Douglas County 42
East Hall 71, Fannin County 58
Johnson County 54, Hancock Central 36
Liberty County 56, Pierce County 46
River Ridge 55, South Cobb 30
Trion 57, Mt. Pisgah Christian 39
Islands defeated Groves 51-12 to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in school history. They will travel to Cordele to play Crisp County in the first round.
Lincoln County defeated First Presbyterian 55-27 and may have continued their streak of playoff appearances. They lead the state with 42 consecutive seasons. Class A playoff qualifications and pairings will be determined this week.
In a battle of North vs. South, North Gwinnett will playoff South Gwinnett in the first round. It will be their first meeting since 2005. The all-time series is tied 6-6.
On a personal note, I will have my eyes on the Class 5A first round matchups Warner Robins at Griffin and Villa Rica at Arabia Mountain. I attended Villa Rica High School (1977-1980) and lived in Warner Robins and attended several games (1984-2009). If those teams win, they will meet in the second round. I would love to see it but both have huge tasks ahead of them. Warner Robins is 3-7 and travels to Griffin (9-1). Warner Robins leads the all-time series 3-1 including at 34-0 win in the 1976 state championship game. Villa Rica (5-5) faces Arabia Mountain (8-2) for the first time. This is also the first time Arabia Mountain has been in the playoffs.